It’s Shrove Tuesday; tomorrow Lent arrives and its long season of penitence and sacrifice. The discipline of fasting emerges culturally this time of year even for those who have never engaged it spiritually, and there is much talk of the traditions of giving up something during these weeks, often something food related. On a more normal Shrove Tuesday, I’d be reminding you that Lent is not a diet and fasting as a spiritual practice isn’t another entry into the toxicity of diet culture.
On a more normal Shrove Tuesday, I’d be getting ready to serve pancakes and dance to New Orleans jazz at church. I’d be thinking of what I would give up during this season, or what discipline I hoped to implement, and it would be in the context of having had a rousing celebration tonight. We would have wild joy and excess, and then a period of reflection before we burst into celebration yet again at Easter.
But there is no feast of pancakes this year. Dancing together to live music seems like something from a long-ago dream. We’ve given up so much this year. Every day has been an exercise in discipline, reshaping our lives around a particular kind of care and safety for ourselves and others. It’s one thing to practice some intentional self-deprivation when it’s bookended by celebration. But what to do this year, when it feels like Lent 2020 never ended?
Personally, I am giving up nothing this Lent. I am refusing to urge myself further into penitent space, or to spend extra time pondering my mortality, because God knows I’ve been doing plenty of that for the last year, and I’m sure there will continue to be plenty of it without any intention on my part. Instead I am seizing every possible instance of joy when it comes. I am taking every opportunity to celebrate, even though my celebrations will not take their usual shape. I am seeking every tiny sign of life in this barren landscape.
That is the only discipline I can bear this year. That is the only discipline I need this year.